The Act of Killing
«Filth is not filth everywhere. In other words, if you see a plougher covered in sludge in a church, you’d call him filthy. But if you see him covered in sludge in a field, you’d call him worthy», says the soldier turned knocker once the war is over. A seemingly simple utterance, which turns out to be the basis of the double standard that runs throughout the whole play: we are not willing to accept violence in our daily lives, but expect and demand it on the battlefront, from whence it shall not return home. So when the homecoming hero is asked «how was it there in the war?», nobody expects and demands the answer given in Gkiak.
«Η βρωμιά δεν είναι παντού βρωμιά. Να σ’ το πω αλλιώς, άμα δεις έναν ζευγά με τις λάσπες μές στην εκκλησία, βρωμιάρη θα τον πεις. Άμα τον δεις όμως με τις λάσπες στο χωράφ’ θα τον πεις άξιο», λέει ο στρατιώτης που έγινε νόκερ μόλις τελειώσει ο πόλεμος. Μια φαινομενικά απλή φράση, η οποία όμως αποδεικνύεται να είναι η βάση του “δύο μέτρα και δύο σταθμά” που τρέχει σε ολόκληρη την παράσταση: δεν είμαστε πρόθυμοι να δεχτούμε τη βία στην καθημερινότητά μας, αλλά την περιμένουμε και την απαιτούμε στο μέτωπο, από όπου δεν πρέπει να επιστρέψει σπίτι. Όταν λοιπόν ο ήρωας ρωτηθεί «πώς ήτανε εκεί στον πόλεμο που ήσουνα;», κανείς δεν περιμένει και απαιτεί την απάντηση που δίνεται στο Γκιακ.
«Il sudiciume non è sempre sudiciume. Per dirla con altre parole, quando vedi un aratore pieno di fango in una chiesa, gli darai del sudicio. Se, però, lo vedi pieno di fango in un campo, gli darai del meritevole», dice l’ex-soldato diventato scannatore di mucche una volta finita la guerra. Una frase all’apparenza semplice, ma che nasconde al suo interno quel doppio standard che attraversa l’intera pièce: non accettiamo la violenza nelle nostre vite quotidiane, ma ce la aspettiamo e anzi la esigiamo sul fronte. E quando l’eroe fa ritorno a casa e gli chiedono «com’era la guerra?», nessuno si aspetta né esige la risposta che dà Gkiak.
Greece was hardly ever a peaceful country. Over the centuries, aoidoi produced chansons de geste extoling winners and condemning losers, making heroes out of barbarians and role models out of runaways, and basically fuelling the eternal fire of blood wars with engaging and rocambolesque descriptions of betrayals and the ensuing vengeance. In recent days, this positive narration of battle has slowly but relentlessly been whelmed by a more condemning view of things, mainly starting from the postcolonial period onwards. Hence, it is now possible to encounter a piece of literature that not only disapproves of, but also analyses and efficiently portrays the hypocrisy of peace built on war.
This is the case with Gkiak – a collection of short stories written by Dimosthenis Papamarkos and adapted for the scene by Georgia Mavragani. Set in one of the many wars that scarred Greek history, namely the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 (or Asia Minor Catastrophe as referred to in the Hellenic peninsula), this concoction of Epirotic tales from the afterwards focuses not so much on Arendt’s banality of evil as on the transformation that “banal” human beings undergo when forced to take part in the vicious cycle of kill-or-be-killed conflicts. We are presented with three main characters, a brother seeking revenge, a lovestruck infantryman and an unaware homosexual, who return home with “honour” just to find that the nightmares of the front are nothing compared to the reality of the social contract everyone abides by.
Director Georgia Mavragani chooses to keep the highly evocative dialect of Epirus in her play and to stir things up even more by creating a fluid and circular narrative structure that keeps the audience glued to the swirling crowd of actors who only beg to be understood. So when the soldier (our grandfather, our uncle, our friend) replies to the question and describes item by item all of his war crimes, what we get by piecing together the polyphonic chorus is not an easily digestible caricature of a monster, but an all-too-familiar reflection of us – a human being. And in this gap opened by the double standard of how we handle violence inside and outside of our home, Gkiak finds breeding ground and blossoms as a fully mature play that does not need any help from its original to express its potential. That is to say, the text finally looses its grip on the message, and the word is free to roam beyond the set lines of the page, in that dark place where only actors can go to reap the pain sown by those before them and feed it to us.
The show is still playing
Small Theatre Moni Lazariston
Kolokotroni 25-27, Stavroupoli – Thessaloniki
from 12 October to 30 December 2017
Thursdays, Fridays at Saturdays at 21.00
Tuesdays at 18.00
Sundays at 19.00
The National Theatre of Northern Greece presents
Gkiak – Γκιακ
by Dimosthenis Papamarkos
adapted and directed by Georgia Mavragani
sets-costumes Artemis Flessa
lighting Tasos Palaioroutas
music composition-improvisations Michalis Sionas
assistant directors:Vasilis Kalfakis, Smaro Kotsia
second assistant director Styliani Dalla
assistant set designer Katerina Stavrou
production co-ordinator Μarleen Verschuuren
photographs Tasos Thomoglou
cast Ioanna Demertzidou, Nikolaos Kousoulis, Emmanouela Magkoni, Dimitris Morfakidis, Panagiotis Papaioannou, Michalis Sionas, Anni Tsolakidou